Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Words (some dirty, some not)


I love words and their origins.  When I was in school, I was lucky to have several teachers who shared this love and taught us the etymology of words along with the subject matter they were supposed to be teaching.  Here are a few (a very few) of my favorites:

A testis, the male sex organ located in the scrotum, is a direct use of a Latin noun.  In Latin, “testis” means “one who gives evidence, a witness.”  How did we come to use that word for a man’s balls?  My take is that the testicle (“little witness”) is evidence that the body containing the testicle is male.  Proof of virility, in other words.  Fascinating!  When I was studying German, we read a lot about the Arthurian legends because Arthur was very much a part of the Siegfried story in German myth.  In the old telling of these myths, a character who wanted to swear that what he was saying was true would grab his balls while he was speaking.  Earthy, and another connection to the root Latin noun.

Penis comes directly from the Latin word “penis,” which means “tail.”  Obviously, males chose this word for its suggestion of length!!!

Vagina comes directly from the Latin word “vagina” meaning “sheath” or “scabbard,” the object into which a knight or soldier puts his sword.  Picturesque, and also a word clearly developed by males from the male point of view.

Carnival has several meanings in English.  It can mean a traveling road show with rides for kids, games, and tents housing bearded ladies and sword eaters.  It’s original meaning, though, is the one that applies to the pre-Lenten festivities in Catholic countries like Brazil and Spain.  It comes from two Latin words: “caro (carnis)” meaning flesh, and “vale,” meaning farewell.  So “carnival” means farewell to flesh.  It talks about the practice in the days before effective long–term storage for meat, of eating up all the meat before the start of Lent, during which meat wasn’t eaten.  Carnival, then, is a festival of meat–eating in preparation for Lent.

Orion is the great hunter in Greek mythology after whom the constellation is named.  His name comes from the Greek word “urion,” meaning “urine.”  One of the several myths of Orion’s creation (and the reason for his name) is that he was born after Zeus pissed into a ox hide which Poseidon buried in the ground.  Orion was created from the pairing of the god’s piss and ox hide.  Nasty!

Masturbation is a cool word.  It comes from two Latin words: “manus,” meaning “hand,” and “stupere,” meaning “to stun.”  So masturbation means stunning with the hand.  Does that make the hand a “stun gun” in this usage?  By the way, “stupere” also is the Latin root for the English word “stupid.”  Is there a connection?  I sure hope not!

Also interesting is the use of the word “Onanism” to mean masturbation.  Onan was the guy in Genesis who, while having sex with his sister–in–law, pulled out and “spilled his seed on the ground.”  Onan was punished for this.  For years, little boys have been terrorized with warnings that masturbation will bring upon them the punishment of Onan.  Onan wasn’t masturbating.  Onan wasn’t punished for wasting his seed.  Onan was punished for coitus interruptus, or using that form of birth control with his sister–in–law.  His sister–in–law was the widow of Onan’s brother, and ancient Hebrew law required the surviving brother to take the widow of his dead brother as his own wife and give her children.  Onan’s failure to inseminate his brother’s widow was a violation of that law and it was for that violation he was condemned in the Scripture.

If ever you have been to a Seder, chances are you’ve had Mogen David wine.  The wine used at Seder is a very sweet red wine.  Mogen David is Hebrew for “Star of David,” the emblem you’ll find prominent on the wine’s label.  I don’t know why, but this fascinates me.

I love the word “putz.”  It’s a Yiddish word that’s used to mean someone who is a fool.  The Yiddish word is a vulgar term for penis.  So when someone calls me a “putz” they’re calling me a dick or a prick.  There’s a cool Yiddish saying: “Wenn der Putz steht, liegt die Sinne in d’Erde.”  “When you have a hard–on, your mind is out of commission” [that’s an idiomatic translation!]

“Babushka” is a scarf that women sometimes wear around their heads.  I love this word!  It just rolls off the tongue.  It comes directly from the Russian.  “Babushka” in Russian means “grandmother.”  Kinda makes sense when you think about it.  Most young women probably wouldn’t want to be caught dead in a babushka!

Finally, the word “grip” comes up a lot in credits for movies.  Grip?  What the hell is a grip?  Turns out to be people who help with lightening on the set and with camera placement and movement.  The boss of the grips is the “key grip.”  In the old days, when cameras had to be cranked by hand, some guys grabbed hold of the legs of the tripod on which the camera was placed so that, as the camera was cranked, the cranking wouldn’t jar the camera and so ruin the shot.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Long to Worship. . . Song of a Reluctant Agnostic


I am a reluctant agnostic.  For the first 40 years of my life, I was a serious Christian of the Roman Catholic variety.  Then, I came out of my closet and started being the gay man I was born to be.  Trying to reconcile what I knew to be true in my own gay life with the traditional teachings of the Christian Church about homosexuality made the first chink in the armor of my religious belief.

I limped along as a quasi-Christian for ten years or so until 9/11/2001.  Then all hell broke loose in my attitudes toward religions and my belief in God.  The more I came to understand the motives and backgrounds of the 9/11 Muslim hijackers, the more I cam to understand that I once had had many of the same motives and a similar background.  I once believed that Christianity was the answer to all life's questions, beside which no other answer could exist.  I couldn't really condemn the Muslim hijackers for their intolerance when I once had been similarly intolerant.  I was educated in Catholic schools from grade school through graduate school.  Like the hijackers when I was their age, I was really clueless about people and religions other than my own.  I used to see the non-Christian world as a world of non-believing infidels out to destroy the beauty of the Christian faith.  9/11 showed me how foolish I had been.  Not only had Christianity condemned me for my gay nature, but it also had made me an intolerant and ignorant bigot.

My thoughts kept moving in a direction away from belief.  I saw clearly for the first time in my life the many fanciful beliefs and superstitions that had been a part of what I believed.  The Virgin Birth, the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the miracles, the quaint coincidences - all these things no longer were believable.  I realized that I had been taught that to doubt or to disbelieve any of these points of Christian faith was to give my soul over to darkness and the devil (the "devil" being another concept that I came to see as unbelievable).  With that teaching forefront in my mind, I never allowed myself to apply rational tests to my beliefs.

Then I thought about all the centuries of violence and murder caused by Christians trying to "convince" non-Christians of their Christian "truth."  I thought about all the wars between various Christian factions.  I thought about the heretics burned at the stake.  I thought about the Salem "witches."   I thought about the one town in Germany where, during the Inquisition, almost every woman was killed for practicing witchcraft.  On and on.  All those years studying Church History, and it took 9/11 to show me the truth of that history:  the Christian Church has never been primarily a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus.  Rather, it's been a secular power out to gain and keep secular influence, prestige, and wealth.

Throughout all this internal upheaval, and prominent everywhere, were the activities of the increasingly unreasonable fundamentalist Christians.   With my background, I had (and still have) many Christian friends.  Many accepted me as a gay man giving me a smile and a hug and asking lots of questions about my experiences.  Others quoted Scripture and warned me about the hot times ahead for me in the afterlife if I lived my gay life as a gay man.  To this latter group, my experience of life meant nothing.  Being straight, these people had not the faintest clue about being gay.  I told them my story.  I told them I know I was born gay.  I told them, "I am gay by God."  Didn't matter to them.  Gay was a "lifestyle choice."  I always had the option, according to these bigots, of turning to God and being "healed" of my homosexuality.  The fact that I sought healing in many ways over a 30 year period without success meant nothing to them.  The fact that I had come to know in the depths of my being that I was born gay, that I had to live gay, and that I would die gay meant nothing.  Because my life didn't conform to their superstitious reading of old Semitic tribal prohibitions and lore, my life was wrong.  I was wrong.  I was an unrepentant sinner and I was going to hell.

That wasn't all!  American fundamentalist Christians no longer want to believe in science.  Global warming is too inconvenient for them and remedies for it are too expensive and life-changing.  Therefore, science is wrong.  Evolution isn't compatible with their literal reading of old Semitic sagas, so science is wrong.  Public schools don't teach the Christian values they so unthinkingly hold to, so public schools are no good and home teaching is necessary.  On and on these Christians go, making our country - not long ago a model of an educated citizenry - an intellectual laughingstock around the world.

Sometime after 9/11, then, I dropped all pretenses of being a Christian and gladly called myself a former Christian.  My belief in God, once the center of my life, now seemed to me a superstitious exercise in wishful thinking, so I stopped believing.  I have never been able, however, completely to deny the existence of God.  Such a denial raises as many questions in my mind as does a total acceptance of the idea of God.  So I call myself an agnostic.

But I'm a reluctant agnostic.  I don't worry about hell or judgment.  As a gay buddy of mine says, "Every gay American has been to hell and back, so hell holds no power over us."  What makes me reluctant is the beauty of belief.  Listen to the song I posted at the beginning of this piece, As the Deer.  It's a pretty song, but that's not the attraction for me.  The trust and love described in the song are the things that I miss about believing in God.  And those things are beautiful to me.  I envy the believers who experience those aspects of belief.  Look also at the photograph of Bernini's sculpture of St. Teresa of Avila in ecstasy, famous for its sensuality.  The woman looks orgasmic in her meditation.  Her love of God is shown to be a physical as well as a spiritual phenomenon.   Similarly, check out the painting of St. Francis of Assisi worshiping the crucified Jesus.  I've always thought of this painting as practically homoerotic.  Who wouldn't want such an experience in life?  Who wouldn't want to believe in a God who so consumes a person with love that physical existence is transformed and made more intense?  I want such things.  I want to worship as Teresa and Francis worshiped.  I want to adore a Being who not only created and sustains me, but who loves me with the intensity bordering on the erotic that is depicted in these two pieces of art.

Alas, as they used to say, that ship seems to have sailed for me.  I still enjoy the art of religion - its music, paintings, and sculpture.  But I can't go back.  I don't think I'll ever be able to believe again when I know the intellectual and personal cost of such a belief.  If God exists, God will have to come to me in stark rational thought, with no bullshit about heaven and hell or the virgin birth.  God will have to meet the requirements of my rational mind.  No more suspension of disbelief for this former believer!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Defense of the Young Liberal


Some geezer younger than I am (I checked his profile) posted a complaint yesterday on one of Justin Rosario’s Facebook postings.  He accused Justin of being too glib, too “unserious,” too quick to attack the conservatives with whom both the complainer and Justin deeply disagree.  These issues are too serious, he seemed to be saying, to treat with anything other than the most sober and mind-numbing respect.

In other words, this complainant was accusing Justin of being young and enthusiastic and full of all kinds of life.

His complaint made me think.  Are Justin and others like him (including, sometimes, me) too frivolous, too quick to attack, too ready to make fun of serious issues and dangerous people?   Have I failed to mature as a thinker and as a person?

Justin writes pieces that attract a lot of people.  The number of his readers grows every day.  His attraction is, certainly, his ability to think logically and to write clearly about his thoughts.  A lot of people do that, however.  What makes Justin’s pieces so appealing is the humanity, humor, light–heartedness, and youth that shine through his writing.  As Mary Poppins so wonderfully tells us, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,” and if ever we needed a spoonful of sugar with our medicine, now is that time.

The complaining geezer, as I thought about him, made me think of my father back in the 1960's.  He and I disagreed about everything, but especially about the Viet Nam War.  One of the accusations he made against my thinking over and over again was that I was having too much fun with my views.  I guess he wanted me to be as he was: angry, frustrated, and so very serious about being right.  Instead, I argued with him on weekdays and went off to peace meetings and marches on the weekends.  He said once, “If it weren’t for the War, you’d have no social life at all.”  I think he was jealous that my politics were so much fun.  His politics—and, remember, he was a very conservative Republican—were very dark and serious indeed.  He was sure my generation was going to sell out to the Soviets and spend our old age high on weed listening to Jimi Hendrix on our record players.

I am convinced that politics is made for the young.  To be effective, to be good at politics, you have to know what you believe is right with a certainty that age diminishes.  You also have to be able to think clearly and express yourself in an appealing way.  I can talk until the cows come home about why the option for abortion always should be available to women, but after a minute or two, the eyes of those listening to my rants glaze over and I can tell they’re frantically looking for an excuse to get the hell away from me.  Justin and other effective young thinkers, can write a brief piece about the same subject, conveying everything my rant included, and then make the reader feel that she or he has had a good time.

I used to worry that, when I got older, I would turn into a conservative.  That didn’t happen, thank my lucky stars.  What has happened is that I’ve lost a lot of the joy of the battle.  Too many battles, too few successes, and now I’m often half–hearted when the fight warms up.  I am so happy to have an infusion of youth from younger people like Justin, for whom the battle has just begun and for whom victory is just one metaphor away.  I believe the social media have done a lot of things for our culture, and one of them is that they have given young thinkers and writers a good forum in which to develop their ideas and their skills.  And the social media have given us old geezers the chance one more time to feel like young warriors in the eternal battle for “peace, justice, and the [REAL] American Way.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Life is Good


These are some of the things I like about living:

Family
is essential to me but also difficult.  To live so closely with the same people over the period of a lifetime requires a lot of forgiveness, a lot of respect for boundaries, a lot of tolerance of differences, and a willingness to stand up for yourself.  Hard work, but with the best rewards.

People
are fascinating to me.  I worked in personnel for a while (oops. . . Human Resources) and I got to know a lot of people, some as friends, a few as close friends.  Each one was a gem.  Each one had a story.  Each one had pain, and each one had joy.  With enough time, and sometimes with enough booze, it all comes out, like a five–act play of Shakespeare, sometimes a comedy, sometimes a tragedy, sometimes an historical epic.

Men
are my favorite people, as a rule.  They are puzzles inside riddles and wrapped in enigmas.  It’s a challenge trying to get to know a man as a real person, with feelings and a history.  But it’s a challenge I enjoy.  The challenge is especially daunting when we’re talking about straight men!!!  Those dudes seem to keep everything under tight control.  Men of either orientation, in my experience, have a harder time making friends than women do.  I’m not sure exactly why this is so, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the way boys are raised.  When boys can’t cry, then boys can’t easily show who they are and what they feel.  Without that ease of sharing, friendship with men takes a while.

Gay Men
are the best of the lot for me.  I love being with gay men and sharing in the fraternity.  I love sharing coming–out stories.  I love the honesty I’ve found gay men to have with one another, not only about their sexual lives, but more importantly about their secret hurts and secret ambitions.  I like the way so many gay men are open about their bodies, not only in a sexual way, but just as human beings.  My closest friends have been gay men and straight women.  These two groups, it seems to me, share an honest and sometimes acerbic view of life that matches my own.

Women
are funny and fun.  Many, I have found, enjoy friendship with a gay man, and it’s my experience that women seem to know—better than men—how to be friends.  Unlike gay or straight men, women seem to me to be more willing to get to the nitty–gritty quickly and with precision.  I have learned a lot about my sexuality through frank talks with women.   I’ll never forget an evening I spent alone in a hot tub with a lesbian couple.  Those three hours (in and out of the tub) are one of the highlights of my life, and probably the most educational few hours I’ve ever spent doing anything.

Sex
is great.  Gay sex is the best.  I love the male body.  I enjoy it dressed, undressed, and everywhere in between.  I’m fond of the sexual things two men can do together.  I like the openness, the obviousness, of male sexuality.  Female sexual expression, it seems to me, is like their sexual anatomy: hidden and mysterious.  Male sexual expression is also like the male anatomy: up–front, out–there, on display, no question.

Electronic Toys
like Blu-Ray’s, iPhones, iPads, computers of all types, my new Roku, HD television and movies, Wii. . . I am enchanted by these things.

Books
teach me about life, open whole universes of ideas to me, and let me escape.  I can’t imagine a life without books.

Movies
are THE American art form and I love them.  I like all kinds of movies, except for those with obscene violence.  I mark the times of my life by recalling the movies I’ve seen and loved.

Theater
is my favorite art form.  I am swept away by a good play and I remember just about every one I’ve seen in my lifetime.  I especially love American musical theater.  I’m not one of those old farts who complain that the American musical is dead.  I believe it’s thriving as it finds its new forms in each generation.  Look at Rent and Spring Awakening.

Life is good.  I’m happy to have lived as long as I have and to have had the experiences—good and bad—that I’ve had.  I hope I have many more.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Christian Group-Think is Harmful to My Health: Another Rant


Dr. Ken Kinnamon, my mentor and friend, is a fundamentalist Christian from Denison, Texas.  I’ve written about him before (see my posts”Dr. K” 12/19/2010 and “Fundamentally Wrong” 1/30/2011).  I love this man, even though he is Republican, Christian fundamentalist, and from Texas!!!

Dr. K was raised by a mother whose belief in the Bible was absolute.  She took Dr. K and his sister to hours-long Pentecostal services every Sunday.  Dr. K KNEW his Bible long before he learned all about the biomedical sciences in his four graduate degree programs and in a career spent in a laboratory studying tropical diseases.  Dr. K could not accept that any physical expression of my gay sexuality was anything but the “abomination” his Bible says it is.  He had spent many years, however, thinking about the Scripture.  He thought about Scripture as he thought about his field of renal; physiology: with great curiosity; with a willingness to be convinced of any truth, Biblical or not; and with an openness to the realities of human life in the twentieth and twenty–first centuries.  He did not believe abortion was addressed in Scripture, for example, so he believed it was not prohibited by God, and therefore  morally okay.  He is, in my opinion, one of the fundamentalists whose faith and understanding have grown and perfected throughout his lifetime.

One day, Dr. K and I were talking about his mother, who had just died at the age of 99.  I said to him that it must have been a comfort to Dr. K and his family that his mother believed in the Bible with such beautiful simplicity.  She died knowing that she was going to meet and live forever with her much–loved Lord and Savior.  Dr. K said that he was comforted by that knowledge.  I said that I envied her certainty; she believed as strongly and as simply in God at the age of 99 as she had at the age of 10.  Dr. K said that he, too, envied his mother that belief. . . to a point.  We went on to talk about the value of doubt and independent understanding of Scripture and of God.  We agreed that, to be fully human, a person has to question, to analyze, and to grow.  For neither of us was it possible to believe as an adult the same things, and in the same way, as we had believed as boys.  For both of us, adult doubt had sharpened our understanding and had forced each of us to make belief our own.  The orthodox Catholics in my world totally disagree with where my thinking journey has brought me.  The pastor in Dr. K’s church asked him to avoid certain topics—his view on abortion and the Scriptures among them—when he was in his Sunday School class.

It IS possible, then, to believe as a fundamentalist Christian, and still think as an educated, questioning human being.  It’s possible, it really is, but it is RARE.

I feel vulnerable today.  Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story  (http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/70-year-old-stoned-to-death-because-the-bible-says-to-stone-gays/news/2011/03/18/18138) about a 70–year–old gay man who was stoned to death by a friend to whom the gay man had, apparently, made sexual advances.  The “stoner” gave as his excuse the fact that the Scriptures prescribe stoning as a punishment for being gay.

Where had this man heard such a thing?  In his church?  On the internet?  Wherever he heard it, this horrible, superstitious, inhuman, and godless action can be traced to Christian teaching.  I say “Christian teaching” because, even though the relevant Scripture is in the Old Testament, Jewish teachers today do NOT teach it as in any way applicable to modern life.  The Christian Church, however, has some preachers who preach that this old superstitious bullshit is the “Word of God” and should be obeyed.  So the Christian Church, the group of people who profess to worship a God who is Love, keeps teaching hatred and its pastors keep giving sermons that result in the death of good, loving, caring, and vulnerable gay men.

When will Christians, especially Christian fundamentalists, let their minds grow?  When will they leave the group–think of simplistic belief that their mothers taught them when they were kids?  When will they THINK FOR THEMSELVES???  This isn’t a question whose answer is academic.  This is a question with life–and–death consequences.  Until fundamentalist Christians understand that preachers who preach anti–gay sermons are engaging in hate speech, until Christians take responsibility for the effect these sermons have on innocent gay men and women, until Christians put aside their blind thinking and think as educated adults, then I believe each and every Christian has a share of the blame when a 70–year–old gay man is stoned to death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2011.

One last part of this rant: Imagine that a Muslim had stoned to death a woman in Philadelphia last week for committing adultery.  What would fundamentalist Christians have to say about that?  Would there be hearings in Congress?  Can’t you just hear Pat Robertson decrying the crimes of the infidel?

Think about it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Liberal Education is What It Says It Is


These will be random thoughts on a liberal education.  Please excuse in advance the lack of a cohesive development in this post.

Please understand that I’m using the term “liberal education” to mean the education received in high school and college.

I had a great liberal education.  It was, after my family and friends, the greatest gift that life has given me.  All four of my daughters also have had good liberal educations, and that is another blessing life has given me.

I’m convinced that a liberal education is meant to teach students how to think in a complex world.  A liberal education includes all the basics—language skills, mathematics, sciences, history, philosophy, and the arts.  It allows a student to integrate these various disciplines into the student’s own world view.  It prepares the student for a lifetime of self–teaching.  It inculcates in a student a curiosity about the unknown and the different, along with a confidence that the unknown is frequently knowable and the different is almost always non–threatening.  A liberal education allows a student to develop a perspective that is the student’s own—a combination of the knowledge attained by study, the experiences of the student’s life, the experiences of others whom the student knows, and the transmitted unlearned wisdom of the student’s family and, in some instances, the student’s family’s faith.  A liberal education will show a student how to test the student’s personal perspective against the reality of the student’s life and culture.  It also will help the student be comfortable with seeking help of various kinds when the student’s perspective seems askew.  Once a personal perspective has started to form, the student throughout life will be able to continue its development by testing ideas and experiences against it, adding sound ideas and good experiences, and tossing out bad ideas and remedying bad experiences.

A good liberal education is essential for a society in which the people govern themselves, directly or indirectly.  A society whose citizens can’t think soundly for themselves is at risk of being a society run by intellectual bullies and charlatans.

A liberal education’s purpose is to free the student from the constraints of intellectual dependence on parents, teachers, pastors, friends, and politicians.  That is its purpose.  Period.  A pure liberal education prepares a student for any job, but qualifies the student for no specific job.  A liberal education isn’t a trade school.  It isn’t a professional school.  It is a school that teaches a student how to think independently.

A liberal education is costly.  As a father of four, I can tell you it is costly in more ways than one.  Unless it is seen as essential, unless parents believe that their kids must have such an education, then the kids will have a very hard time getting one.  More than that, unless the entire society sincerely values liberal education and collectively works to make such an education available to its children, then only the wealthy will be educated and only the wealthy will prosper intellectually and materially.

Neither my Dad nor my Mom went to college.  When I went to graduate school,  my Dad kept calling me a “perpetual student.”  Mom and Dad saw the value of my education only in  terms of the money they hoped I might make because of it.  Parents who haven’t been educated need to take a leap of faith, therefore.  They need to trust that what is happening in the classroom is of value.  They need to trust that time spent studying art history or Plato isn’t time and money wasted.  I know from personal experience that this is difficult for parents who haven’t been educated themselves.  Helping the individual parent make that leap of faith would be a society that cherishes learning and independent thinking, that understands that knowledge really is personal power, and that life in the 21st century cannot be lived with an education from the 15th or 19th century.

The conservatives around the country are mounting an attack against public education, against intellectual excellence, and against secular knowledge itself.  They are like the Church in the Middle Ages who limited education to priests.  The medieval Church did that, in my view, because they were afraid an educated Christendom would be a rebellious Christendom.  The Reformation, product of the Renaissance (or the re-birth of learning), proved their fears warranted.  Similarly today, conservatives and especially conservative Christians, are afraid.  They home-school their children and limit their exposure to the wider world, again in my view, to ensure that their kids have to rely on what their parents and pastors tell them, to ensure that they remain faithful members of a benighted flock.

The good guys have to win this one.  They really do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Grandma: March 14, 1890 - August 1, 1969 - A Liberal Democrat


Lucy Weakley Hawkins was my grandmother.  She was born on Old Rag Mountain, in a place called Nethers, on March 14, 1890, 121 years ago yesterday.  She was a beautiful young woman who went to normal school and became a teacher.  She was noted all her life for her flaming red hair, and her flaming temper (in her later years, of course, the red wasn’t natural).  When I was little, all the country people around Old Rag (in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on Virginia’s Skyline Drive) called her “Miss Lucy,” and treated her with respect because she had been a teacher and with caution because of her temper.  Grandma told me once, in strictest confidence, that I was her favorite of her five grandchildren.  I believed her at the time, but since then I’ve come to wonder.  I loved to play gin rummy with her.  She cheated openly and often.  She was a horrible loser in cards and, I guess, in life.  I remember clearly cuddling on her magnificent bosom as a little boy.  She was a world–class cuddler.  And her bosom!!!  As a gay man, I can only suggest its impact on the straight men of her day.  It certainly had an impact on my grandfather, Henry.  Lucy and Henry had nine children, eight boys and one lone girl, the second oldest of their children, my Aunt Pauline.  I’ve always wondered whether her bosom as I knew it was the cause or the effect of those nine kids.

Lucy had a difficult life.  It started out very well, though.  A beautiful young woman, she was the proverbial bell of the ball.  She loved to dance.  She enjoyed the attention of men, but was a lady through and through, as one old coot told me one day.  I suspect he had been one of the many who unsuccessfully assailed Grandma’s virtue.  She loved my grandfather, though, and told me so many times.  He swept her off her Southern feet.  He was tall and handsome and had enough money to support a wife.  Grandma and he were married and had all those kids, and then, in 1933, when the youngest of the kids was two, he was killed trying to stop a fight between two fisherman on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  A year or so before his death, the youngest of his and Lucy’s kids was playing with matches and burned down their home in a little village called Woodville, Virginia.  My grandfather came up with enough money to buy 50 or so acres of land in the beautiful valley between Washington, Virginia, and Sperryville, Virginia.  On that land he built a wonderful house that remains in my family to this day.  The woodwork in the house, the size of its rooms, the wonder of its view of the mountains—all these have shaped my opinion of what a house should be.

After my grandfather’s death, Grandma was left to raise her sons and daughter alone.  In 1936, a freak tornado came through the town of Sperryville, Virginia, and killed her son, and my uncle, Marshall.  She buried her son next to his father in the family plot in Culpeper, Virginia.  Financial problems didn’t come until after the business collapsed that she had helped her oldest son, Gordon, build and run.  Money then became an issue.  She sold her beautiful home to my Aunt Pauline and her husband, and moved to Washington, D. C., in 1939.

She bough a really beautiful town house on Capitol Hill in Washington, 710 East Capitol Street, seven blocks from the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court.  When World War II started and her sons all went off to serve in the military, she started renting rooms.  She rented a room to my mother and my mother’s sister, both of whom were WAVES during the war.  My Mom and aunt roomed with her until the end of the war.  When my Dad came back from Germany after the war was over, he met my Mom and they were married.  Grandma’s house had an English basement that Grandma rented out as a one–bedroom apartment.  When Mom and Dad married, Grandma rented the apartment to them.  After I was born, it was to Grandma’s house that I was taken and in Grandma’s house that I spent most of the first three years of my life.  I remember clearly crawling up the stairs from the basement to Grandma’s kitchen and pounding on the door.  Grandma would let me in, and I would “help” her cook or clean or whatever.  Over the years, I spent many days with Grandma.  After Mom and Dad moved all of us to our new home in Alexandria, Virginia, Grandma would often take care of us during the summer.  I learned to love Southern cuisine, or at least my Grandma’s version of it.  To this day, green beans that aren’t cooked to almost a sodden state with tons of bacon fat taste “off” to me, and I have trouble eating them.  I have never had a biscuit as good as those my Grandma made each and every day.  Her iced tea is, to this day, my idea of perfection.  Grandma taught me how to set a table for dinner—formal and informal.  She taught me how to use my utensils at table and how to take care of my napkin (she always had cloth napkins, of course).  She taught me so many things!

On the wall in the nice upstairs hallway of Grandma’s house, right outside her bedroom, was a beautiful, large oil portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Grandma adored Mr. Roosevelt, or Franklin, as she called him.  Her youngest child, my Uncle Herbert, has Franklin as a middle name in the President’s honor.  From the time I was in diapers until she was about to die, Grandma taught me what was the political truth.  Republicans are the party of the rich and contented; Democrats try to take care of everybody.  Republicans are modern–day slave drivers; Democrats are the party of unions, and weekends, and the minimum wage.  Republicans don’t care if the common person lives or dies; Democrats gave us Social Security.  “You must NEVER vote for a Republican,” Grandma told me over and over, “They will ruin your life and ruin this country.”  She had raised her kids to believe the same things, but some of her other kids have voted Republican, including my Dad, who voted for Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.  I, though, learned the truth well and deeply from Grandma.  Never, not once, in all the times I have voted since the election of 1968, when I voted for Hubert H. Humphrey, have I ever voted for a Republican.  And I thank my prophetic Grandma for setting me in the path of righteousness at such an early age.

I look at what’s happening in our country today, and I am thankful that Grandma isn’t here to see her worst fears come to life.  I am thankful, too, that I knew this woman and that she gave me the benefit of her wisdom and grace.
 
I looked everywhere for a photo of Grandma.  I know I have a few, but I couldn't find any of them.  I'm posting a pic of FDR instead.  I know she'd be pleased!

Friday, March 11, 2011

God's Image



This post is primarily for Daniel Harbin.
 
I have wrestled with the idea of God since I was a little kid.  I know most people go through this kind of cognitive experience when they are growing up.  In my case, though, it has been a life-long obsession.  I was a Roman Catholic seminarian for 8 years, and a Franciscan Friar.  I studies Scripture in and out of school for many years.  I opened the Bible I used back in the 1970's and took a picture of the page to which I opened at random.  It's here in this post.  Almost every page of this book looks like the page I photographed.  I was going to read and pray and think until I had God squarely in my understanding.  I was out to know God from alpha to omega.

What I discovered after almost 40 years:  I can't know or understand God.  God, if God exists, is way beyond the ability of my human mind to comprehend.  I also came to believe that the same inability is true for every human being.  God, if God exists, has to be the complete and total "Other."  God, if God exists, cannot be like human beings except in one respect.  God, if God exists, is love.  Pure and simple.

If you believe in the Scripture, then you believe what is in 1 John 4/16-21:

[beginning of citation] God is love; they who dwell in love are dwelling in God, and God in them.  This is for us the prefection of love, to have confidence on the day of judgment, and this we can have, because even in this world we are as he is.  There is no room for fear in love; perfect love banishes fear.  For fear brings with it the pains of judgment, and anyone who is afraid has not attained to love in its perfection.  We love because he loved us first.  But if people say, "I love God," while hating their brothers and sisters, those people are liars.  If a person does not love the brothers and sisters who are visible, then how can that person love God who is invisible?  And indeed this command comes to us from Christ himself:  that they who love God also must love their brothers and sisters. [end of citation]

This is pretty much my belief, such as it is, in the nature of God.  What kind of love would destroy the whole earth by flood to punish the ungodly?  Even human "tough love" doesn't include the punishment of the innocent along with the guilty.  What kind of love would turn Sodom and Gomorrah into useless charred ruble because of the misdeeds - whatever they were - of a few of its inhabitants?  What kind of love would create gay people and then condemn them to a life of derision, alienation, and lovelessness?  Not the God that John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" describes.  Not the only God I can even conceive of existing.  The God you describe is a jealous, vengeful, really hateful being who resembles human beings at their worst.  The God you describe is something out of a Stephen King novel.  The God you describe is not the God that John the Beloved knows and preaches.  My sense is that you fear this God of yours.  That fact alone, for me, calls into question your image of God.

God, if God exists, is the perfection of any concept we humans have of "the good," including kindness, compassion, mercy, and love.  Such a Being would not be a Being to cause fear.  God, if God exists, draws all things to God's self by the power of God's love that "passes all understanding."

No need to reply.  I hope you will read 1 John and think about all this a little bit.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What Really Inspired Me


Yesterday, Jon Lindley, in his post on Addictinginfo.org (http://life.addictinginfo.org/?p=92), titled  Inspi...(breathe)...ration, asked what inspired people to be liberal.  I answered by listing the anti-war movement of the 60's, Watergate, AIDS, the Bushes (especially W), and my education.  All true answers.

Last night, it occurred to me that I had omitted one of the most powerful influences on my thinking:  music.

I have an unusual relationship to music.  Almost everyone I know loves to listen to some kind of music as they drive, work, relax, eat, whatever.  I don't.  When I listen to music, and I love to listen to music, I do nothing else.  I get wrapped up totally in what I'm hearing and go to a better place in my mind.  Music is and always has been the best therapy for me.

I am a mostly self-taught church organist.  I love playing music.  I've been playing in public since I was 14 years old.  I love it especially when I am playing with other musicians or when I am accompanying a congregation or choir.  That to me is music, the making of music.  I have had a few experiences playing music that have been more intense and more physically satisfying than sex.   It is when I am playing the organ that the "real" me comes out.  All my emotions, beliefs, sensitivities, and desires are there on the surface.

By the time I graduated from college, I knew in my soul that most of what I deeply felt wasn't acceptable to my family and friends.  I had grown up keeping my affection and desire for men tightly under wraps.  I had developed an alter ego, a version of me that I thought would be acceptable to the people whom I loved and/or wanted to impress.  Until I was close to 40 years old, no one-not one single human being-knew what I really felt or desired.  That's pretty sad.

During all those years, though, I played the organ.  I made music.  And all the stuff that I couldn't tell people was there in my music.  Beni, the first night she met me, went to Midnight Mass where I played the organ.  She told me later that my playing was the first time she really liked organ music.  Another time, years later, I was organist for the Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, D. C., a mostly gay and lesbian congregation.  A lawyer who was a member of the church told me one Sunday that he wished he had the chance to get to know me more, but, he said, he felt that he knew most of what there was to know about me by hearing me play.

I put everything I have in my music.  I am disciplined enough to know that music has to be played with nuance and color and control, but, within those bounds, I blossom as a person when I play.

When I was 26 years old, I bought a pretty good electronic organ for my own.  I learned so much by having that instrument available only for my use 24/7.  It occurred to me one day close to Christmas, as I was preparing for the seasonal music I would need to play, that a perfect world would allow me to be as open in my personal interactions as I am in my music.  I got a glimpse then for the first time of the damage that I was doing to myself by trying to hide who I am.

From that day on, I have wanted the world to be as welcoming of all kinds of people as music has been welcoming to me.  I want the world to enjoy the unique expressions of life that each person has to share.  I want a free and open and friendly world.  I want a world where friendship and family and all kinds of relationships are as full of self-expression and honesty as my music is.

Music inspired me to be a liberal.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Beni Lewis Hawkins at 68



Today is Beni’s 68th birthday.  68!!!!  Sixty–eight!!!!  LXVIII!!!!  She’s getting old!!!!!

I met Beni on December 24, 1975.  She was about 3 months shy of her 33rd birthday.  She has known me for more than half her life.  She has been married to me for close to half her life.

We have had four daughters together.  We have done a lot of traveling together all over the USA and Europe.  We’ve lived in Virginia, Southern California, and West Virginia.  We have one son–in–law and one granddaughter.  We’ve rented one house and we’ve “owned” six houses, including the house we have now in Martinsburg and the condo we currently have (are stuck with) in Florida.  We’ve had 15 cars, 3 of them bought new, and some of them bought for the kids.  We’ve seen three of the girls get bachelor’s degrees, and are looking forward to Annie getting her Master’s Degree on May 21, 2011.

Beni has delivered four kids without anesthetic, including the twins, Annie and Beni.  We’ve been through Annie’s near–fatal neonatal heart problems.  We’ve been through my pericarditis in 1988 and pancreatitis in 2007.  We watched poor Sarah dehydrate with the flu when she was 2 years old.  We’ve been with the girls through the terrible two’s and the horrible teens which, for some of the kids, were really more than horrible for them and for us.  We’ve lived long enough to see all the girls turn back into human beings in their early 20's and become delightful adults whose company is our greatest delight.

In addition to corralling the kids at home for all those years, Beni has worked as a school bus driver, a substitute school teacher, a salesperson in a fabric store, a manufacturer of Tiny T Shirts, a doll maker, and a dental technician.  Her work as a dental tech was amazing.  She assisted the dentist several times while the dentist worked on my teeth.  She was fantastic!!!  She had the ability to put people at ease and to poke around in peoples’ mouths.  People actually asked for her when they went to the dentist for help.  She retired from her dental tech career in 2005.  Since then, she has helped our daughter, Sarah, and our son–in–law, Matt, take care of Casey, our only grandchild.  She spends several hours a day during the school year taking care of Case.

Beni was a competitive race walker in California in the1960's.  She set a world record back then, but, because women weren’t considered eligible athletes in the sport back then, the record never was acknowledged.  She ran a marathon in San Diego also in the 1960's with a finish time of 4 hours and a few minutes.  She has recently taken to running again and, in 2009, completed the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.  She will run the Shamrock Half–Marathon in Virginia Beach on March 20, 2011.

Beni, in my mother’s words, is a “professional seamstress.”  She once sewed drapes for a window in less than 3 hours and the resulting drapes put the rest of our window treatments to shame.  She has sewn dresses, coats, shirts, hats, and pants for our kids.  She made an elegant shirt for me to wear at our wedding.  She made me a full–length terrycloth bathrobe by looking at an older bathrobe for a pattern.  I use that bathrobe to this day.  In the past several years she has started knitting again and she is an excellent and compulsive knitter.  The picture is of a sweater she knitted for herself, one of her first efforts.  I think it’s beautiful.

More than anything else, Beni has been my best friend.  She encouraged me throughout my career, helping me get to the highest grade, GS–15, in the federal general schedule.  She supported me beyond any expectation when I came out of the closet when I was 40.  She encourages me constantly to find a boyfriend (yes, a boyfriend at my age!!!!), and, with a perfectly–functioning gaydar, constantly points out possible boyfriends on the street, in restaurants, and anywhere else she sees them.

Happy Birthday, Beni!!!  I hope you live another 68 years!!!  If anyone can do it, you can.  I love you!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Republican Christianity, Part 2

After I wrote the piece on Republican Christianity earlier today, I had the following comment on Facebook:

>>>Jesus did indeed tell people who was their neighbor and He said to help those. He did not say give your money to the government to do those things. In fact a close examination of the Good Samaritan tells us that both the church and the government passed the needy man up. Jesus wanted us to act individually to help t5hose in need.

In fact He eschewed government and told Peter to give what was Cesar's to Cesar. Jesus knew government can and does change and therefore will let you down. He knew even the church will let you down.

True Christianity is not difficult, it is simple. The passage you mention is for that man alone because Jesus recognized he was in love with his possessions and would not let them go. Just as Jesus knew Judas would betray Him because Judas was not willing to give up the idea of wealth.

Jesus also believed in free will giving and the government confiscates our money to spend it where we do not wish it spent.

Also wealth and success is preached in the Bible. Job is an example of wealth and success, so is Joseph and Abraham and the list goes on. They achieved these through faith in God, the God of the bible.<<<

Here, for my record, is my reply (also posted earlier on Facebook):

To take the last point first, because it is key, in my view: “Also wealth and success is preached in the Bible. Job is an example of wealth and success, so is Joseph and Abraham and the list goes on. They achieved these through fai...th in God, the God of the bible.” Jesus said (John 14/6), “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Jesus in Matthew 5/17 says that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets, thereby releasing believers from the Mosaic law. What the Hebrew Bible presents is a Hebrew understanding of Yahweh. Jesus clarified and perfected that view. There is not one word spoken by Jesus that equates God’s favor with material success or power. Rather, Jesus promises a difficult path to his followers (Luke 9/23): “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Denial and cross–bearing are difficult. The virtuous life is difficult. To be a Christian requires struggle, self–denial, and even failure in the eyes of the world (“the last shall be first”). No where does Jesus promise his followers anything but difficulty here on earth. Had his teaching been what you and the Falwells and Robertsons preach, then he would have met Judas’ expectations and he would have been an earthly Messiah. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” he told his followers (John 18/36). The rewards of discipleship are spiritual in this world and eternal life in the next. Jesus not once promised his followers anything but the cross and self–denial.

A close examination of the Good Samaritan says nothing at all about government aid to the needy. The Samaritans were considered by the Jews to be an unorthodox Jewish sect, whose counterclaims to righteousness were untenable. Jews were forbidden to have any contact with, or even to speak to Samaritans. The fact that it was the Samaritan who helped the injured Jew, rather than a priest or a temple politician, has nothing to do with how a society helps its needy. It instead makes the point that Jesus considers everybody, even members of this outlaw Samaritan sect, to be his neighbor. Jesus is trying to teach that there are no boundaries to his requirement that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

In Matthew 22, the Pharisees send people to Jesus to try to trick him into a breach of the law. They ask Jesus if it’s ok to pay the imperial tax to Caesar. Jesus’s reply: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Nowhere in the scripture are we treated to an understanding of what Jesus thought about governmental stability or about the uses to which Caesar would put the collected taxes. Jesus was advising his disciples to be obedient to secular law. He also was screwing with the Pharisees.

True Christianity is difficult. It is challenging. It requires total dedication. The passage I quoted (Matthew 25/34–40) has nothing at all to do with Jesus’s admonition to the rich young man. Matthew 25 and surrounding Scripture are a series of basic teachings of Jesus. The passage you want is found in three of the Gospels: Matthew 19/16–30, Mark 10/17–31, and Luke 18/18–30. These are the accounts of Jesus’s encounter with the young man who would not be able to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. That requirement, by the way, is not limited to the rich young man. Peter, in each account, says essentially, “Lord, we’ve given up everything to follow you; what’s in it for us?” The Gospel requirement is and always has been a requirement to be poor—if not poor in material goods, then at least poor in spirit. Only the poor in spirit know that they need God.

You write, finally, “Jesus also believed in free will giving and the government confiscates our money to spend it where we do not wish it spent.” See what Jesus had to say about Caesar and God. It is a huge stretch for you to claim that Jesus would be against social programs of the government, especially since his earliest followers held all things in common (read Acts again). If the government is going to tax me, then I would hope that Christians would vote for programs that help the sick, the dying, the immigrant, the uneducated, the hungry, and the naked.

Your theology is what I consider to be an American version of Christianity that is lethal. It perverts the teachings of Jesus in an attempt to justify the selfish, materialistic American way of life. I have enjoyed writing this piece, but I doubt that it will make any difference to you or to anybody else. I write it because I believe it and you and others who believe as you do scare me.

Republican Christianity. . . or Modern Heresy 101


Earlier this year, Bruce Linder posted an insightful article on Addictinginfo.org entitled, You May Be a Republican If. . .  Justin Rosario posted a Facebook link to Bruce’s piece today.  If you’re interested, it’s excellent and you can find it at http://www.addictinginfo.org/?page_id=259.

I enjoyed Bruce’s piece very much.  Then, as I almost always do, I read the comments.  An apparent republican named Cathy wrote what I’m sure she considers a devastating rebuttal to the points Bruce makes.  Here is her comment:

“You Might be a Republican if….. you might be a republican if you actually work hard for your money and don’t want to give it to losers that are too lazy to work….you might be a republican if you pay for your own kids school lunch….you might be a republican if you actually believe in God….etc….etc..etc…”

There were other republican–written comments on Bruce’s piece, but Cathy’s got my goat, as my mother would say.  I know it’s a waste of time to argue with republicans, but I’m beginning to understand that it’s also a waste of time to try to make sense of their beliefs.  Mindful of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s admonition that, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” I still have to point out the huge inconsistency in Cathy’s republican mind.

She writes that belief in God is a hallmark of the republican party.  She doesn’t specify what God it is that republicans believe in.  In my view, it is the god of Materialism, but I suspect that dear Cathy considers herself a Christian, as do so many members of that benighted party.  So Cathy is a believing Christian.  Good for her!

Cathy, a believer, has problems giving her money to “losers that are too lazy to work.”  I’m sure she is talking about poor people who need welfare, even while they work jobs paying minimum wage.  I imagine she includes in this group workers who have lost their jobs and are collecting unemployment.

Cathy, a good Christian, is incensed that some parents in this country don’t pay for their kids’ school lunch.  Again, I imagine she is talking about the poor and the unemployed.  She seems to ignore the cause of much of this poverty and unemployment:   the crimes committed by mostly–republican Wall Street bankers, crimes that have never been investigated or brought to trial.

Cathy is apparently a believer in a uniquely American brand of Christianity, one that has been preached by televangelists whose seminary education seems to have been provided by kindergarten teachers.  This modern theology equates wealth, success, and strength with God’s favor.  These Christians believe that people who are “right with Jesus” get every material thing they need, and then some.  These Christians believe that no true believer is jobless for very long, because Jesus just wouldn’t do that to one of his chosen.  These Christians believe that whatever cause they support will triumph because to oppose their causes is a sign of weakness of spirit and alliance with the darkness.

Cathy’s statement is bullshit.

Listen to what Jesus taught:

>>>Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?   When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?   When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25/34–40)<<<

Cathy’s republican philosophy is as shallow as her “Christian” theology.  Neither her philosophy nor her theology would be worthy of serious attention if it weren’t for the fact that republican politicians are proposing legislation every day based on this nonsense.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote about her life–long struggle with faith and with Jesus’s  commandment that she love her fellow human beings. “If this is how God treats His friends, it’s no wonder He has so few of them.”  A vigorous study of Christian theology and the Scriptures shows that true Christianity is difficult.  Jesus in the Gospels offers no material rewards.  Jesus in the Gospels is the friend of the have–nots and almost always the enemy of the haves.  The Jesus of the Gospel said, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19/21).